August 9, 2000
Philip Coyle, the director of the Pentagon's testing program, discusses problems with the proposed missile defense system in this extended interview.
NEWSHOUR: Let's start by talking about the last test. Was that a significant set back for the program?
MR. COYLE: Yes. The, everybody was very disappointed. The thing that failed was supposed to be the easy part. Something that we felt we knew how to do. And, so, it actually prevented a test of the harder part which was demonstrating another intercept.
NEWSHOUR: So, what will happen as a result of the failure of that test? Will that test, will that have to be repeated in order to continue?
MR. COYLE: Yes. The first thing that will happen is that the contractor will go through a failure matrix, try to figure out what the root cause of that failure was. They are in the process of doing that now. Once they believe that they understand the failure, obviously, it will have to be fixed so that it can't happen again. And then we'll need to do a new test perhaps not identical to the last one but very similar.
NEWSHOUR: And to what extent does that delay the timetable?
MR. COYLE: It will probably delay the timetable another six months or so, I would guess.
NEWSHOUR: The President has to decide whether the National Missile Defense Program is technologically feasible. In your view, is the National Missile Defense Program technologically feasible?
MR. COYLE: There, there are many aspects to that question. We've shown, for example, in the first intercept test that we can hit a bullet with a bullet, something that some people were skeptical we could do. We've shown we can do that. What we haven't shown yet is that we can do that in realistic, operational situations without warning and in the presence of likely counter measures.
NEWSHOUR: And should this program proceed?
MR. COYLE: That's a decision that the President will have to make.
NEWSHOUR: I understand that. You'll have some input. You will, you will give your recommendation to the Secretary who will pass it onto the President?
MR. COYLE: Yes. My, my recommendations will be confined to the status of the testing program. How far I feel that it has progressed, what we've accomplished and what we haven't.
I won't make a, a recommendation that tells the Secretary or the President what to do.
NEWSHOUR: Can you characterize the kind of recommendation you will make in terms of what's been accomplished and what needs to be accomplished to make this program work?
MR. COYLE: Not at this point. I'm in the midst of my report and we're, we're just not there yet.
NEWSHOUR: You've defined, you have already, you have said that the schedule is high-risk.
MR. COYLE: Yes. And, and, and in some ways we've lost time in the schedule since the program was restructured last year ago January. It slipped six or eight months. So, it's been slipping a third of a day per day since it was restructured and this latest test failure won't make that any better.
NEWSHOUR: In your last report you have given sort of a laundry list, a catalog of some of the shortcomings that you've seen in the testing. Could you describe for me what the shortcomings have been in the testing regimes of this program?
MR. COYLE: Well, the first thing is the schedule has--the program has been very schedule driven. I have recommended as has General Welch's panel on three occasions that the program needs to be event driven not schedule driven. That means that we should try to achieve these events as quickly as we can. If things go well, we can move faster, if things go poorly we will move more slowly.
But the thing that ought to determine how we conduct the program ought to be our ability to demonstrate progress, not achieving particular schedule dates.
NEWSHOUR: Has the progress been demonstrated?
MR. COYLE: Not yet, no.
NEWSHOUR: And why not? In what way hasn't it been demonstrated?
MR. COYLE: Well, in the first, in the first intercept test we did demonstrate the ability to hit to kill, to hit a bullet with a bullet, as they say. But we've not been able to repeat that in the two subsequent intercept tests.
NEWSHOUR: You have also raised other issues of concern about the targets, interoperability, that those issues. Could you detail some of the things that you've described and written about?
MR. COYLE: Yes. The, the targets will need to become more realistic. In the tests that we've done, the flight intercept tests that we've done so far, the target complex has consisted of a reentry vehicle, the bus that carries the reentry vehicle up into space, and a large balloon. The large balloon has been called a decoy but it isn't really a decoy because it is quite large and bright, and doesn't really fool the interceptor.
And, so, eventually we will have to move away from that sort of target complex to more realistic kinds of targets,
NEWSHOUR: The interoperability issue.
MR. COYLE: This system, National Missile Defense System, is I think it's fair to say the most complicated and difficult thing that the Department of Defense has ever tried to do. More complex than a high performance jet fighters and aircraft carriers and tanks and trucks and ammunition. And making, having all of the different parts of the system, the satellites, the battle management system, the interceptors, the kill vehicle, having all of these pieces work together will be one of the big challenges in the program.
NEWSHOUR: Has it been demonstrated that these pieces can work together?
MR. COYLE: We, we've made a surprising amount of progress in that regard. The battle management system works quite well. The new radars are working quite well. So, we've made a lot of progress in that regard.
NEWSHOUR: Can these pieces work together?
MR. COYLE: Eventually, yes, I think so.
NEWSHOUR: What about the discrimination issue? As you know, Dr. Postol and others suggest that the system has not been proven that it can discriminate, there have been no realistic tests, and it's his belief that the system will not be able to discriminate between decoys and the real thing. What's your evaluation?
MR. COYLE: Discrimination is a legitimate issue and we will need to do more to show, to demonstrate that we really can discriminate the real target from decoys. We haven't done intercept tests like that yet. And that will be coming in the future.
NEWSHOUR: Do you believe that it is feasible? That this defense system will be able to discriminate?
MR. COYLE: That will depend on how sophisticated the decoys are. You can have a debate about how realistic the decoys might be, how much effort an enemy might put into the, those decoys in order to make them more realistic and whether technically they can even do it.
But as the decoys become more realistic it makes the discrimination task more difficult.
NEWSHOUR: So, this is a question mark?
MR. COYLE: Yes.
NEWSHOUR: But it's not an impossibility?
MR. COYLE: I, I think it's too soon to say. We just haven't done the, the intercept tests yet that would demonstrate that we can do that.
NEWSHOUR: There's a lot about the system then which is unknown?
MR. COYLE: Yes. We're still very early in the program. We've only had three intercept tests. We have a long way to go.
NEWSHOUR: So, can you say yet whether the system is technologically feasible?
MR. COYLE: Aspects of the program have already shown, been shown to be technologically feasible. We've shown that we can make those radars work, we've shown that we can hit a bullet with a bullet. There are other aspects that we simply haven't even tried yet, let alone demonstrated.
NEWSHOUR: So, it's a question mark as to whether it's technologically feasible from your standpoint?
MR. COYLE: Yes.
NEWSHOUR: The President has to decide, make a decision as to whether or not this is technologically feasible. From where you sit, that question cannot be answered right now?
MR. COYLE: I, I don't believe that technological feasibility has to be determined for once and for all for all aspects of the system for the President to be able to make a decision about how fast he wants to move forward or not. I believe he can make judgments about that even though some aspects of this system still haven't been demonstrated.
NEWSHOUR: Does the procurement process on this differ with previous procurement processes? The normal doctrine, as I understand it, is fly before you buy. Does this, is this different from the normal process?
MR. COYLE: We're trying to do that in this program also. That's why we're doing these flight tests and many other tests on the ground, in laboratories, all over. We're trying to fly before we buy in this program also.
NEWSHOUR: But then nonetheless, I mean the suggestion is to move ahead with aspects of the program before the entire program has been demonstrated that it works, correct?
MR. COYLE: Yes, but that's not unusual. In defense acquisition programs we will often do long lead procurements before all of the testing has been finished, holding until later the final production.
NEWSHOUR: The letter and I haven't seen it but maybe you can explain why you voted, yes, to support Senator Durbin's proposition? What your position was?
MR. COYLE: Senator Durbin's amendment to generalize it was urging realistic testing of National Missile Defense Systems. I, obviously, support that. So, I wrote a short letter which said that I thought that what he was trying to do with his amendment would encourage realistic testing.
NEWSHOUR: Well, as you know, there's a movement, has been a movement to kind of slow down this schedule. Do you--is that what you're supporting?
MR. COYLE: No. I am not trying to slow down the program at all. In fact, if the program is to achieve its advertised dates, the testing program will probably have to be much more aggressive.
I was simply supporting realistic testing all along the way.
NEWSHOUR: You are saying that there hasn't been realistic testing?
MR. COYLE: Well, the testing has been as realistic as we know how at this point in the program. Later on, as we move forward the tests will become more challenging.
NEWSHOUR: Dr. Postol has suggested that the tests have been wrongly dumbed down. He has even suggested that there has been misinterpretation. He has even gone to the extent of calling it fraud. What do you think of the assessment that he's made of the testing so far?
MR. COYLE: The issues that he raises about discrimination and countermeasures are legitimate scientific issues. And we'll need to place more emphasis on those questions. And we're doing that.
NEWSHOUR: Could you elaborate on when you say those are legitimate issues. What do you agree with and what do you disagree with of his assessment?
MR. COYLE: Well, Senator Durbin views comparison on the floor of the Senate the other evening which was there is in golf there is hitting a hole in one, which is hard to do. There is hitting a hole in one when the hole is moving but you know where it's going. And that's what we did. We succeeded in doing that in the first flight intercept test. Unfortunately, we have not been able to reproduce that success since.
And then there is hitting a hole in one where the hole is moving and you don't know where it's going exactly perhaps. And there may be other holes on the green with flags sticking out of them that are not the real hole and you have to discriminate between the real one and the, the fake ones, the countermeasures.
That is the way Senator Durbin put it, and I think it captures Dr. Postol's issue.
NEWSHOUR: What about he is suggesting that the--and, again, he uses very strong language. Obviously, you are not, I would doubt that you would go there. But that the tests have been dumbed down and he even talks about fraud in the analysis of the tests.
MR. COYLE: All tests, especially very early tests in a development program, and that's where we are with National Missile Defense, all tests have test limitations. In the case of these tests that Quadrolon [ph] some of the artificialities, some of the limitations are required just for a range of safety constraints. So, that if there is a hit debris doesn't fall on somebody, for example.
So, many of the constraints, especially early in a program, are quite unavoidable.
NEWSHOUR: And necessary?
MR. COYLE: And, and necessary, yes.
NEWSHOUR: The booster rocket hasn't been tested.
MR. COYLE: That's right. The so-called tactical booster,
those tests are coming up. We had thought back a year-and-a-half or
so ago, we had thought that those booster tests would have already been
done. They have slipped along with other things in the--
NEWSHOUR: The booster rocket hasn't been tested.
MR. COYLE: That's correct. The so-called tactical booster, the, the, what would be the real booster has not been tested yet. We had thought that it would have been before the deployment readiness review. But that, those tests have slipped along with other tests that had planned to be done by now.
NEWSHOUR: So, in summary, I'm trying to find out and I'm not sure I completely understand, when--
MR. COYLE: Excuse me.
NEWSHOUR: That's all right. Where you come down on this. You have obviously raised some severe and serious objections to the time table, correct?
So, without regard to looking at the nature of the threat, which is something that is a separate consideration, looking at the system, itself, what should the Department of Defense do? What should this country do with regard to deployment of this system?
MR. COYLE: The program needs to and will, I believe, move to an event-based program, driven by success with specific events. The program will move gradually towards more and more realistic tests. And as we have success in those tests, that will enable decision makers to decide whether or not such a system can be deployed.
NEWSHOUR: Instead of what?
MR. COYLE: Instead of what? I'm sorry.
NEWSHOUR: Instead, I mean how would what you would suggest be different from what has been happening and what's been proposed?
MR. COYLE: Well, I think it's been explained rather well in the press that originally the program was schedule driven. I believe that will change. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to move forward as fast as we can. But the thing as the Welch report said, the thing that's important is to demonstrate progress with these various events, these various, various technical milestones, not trying to achieve a particular date for its own sake, regardless of success with those events.
NEWSHOUR: Could you better sketch, spell out for a lay audience, the difference between schedule driven and event driven? I think that's the difficulty that people might have in understanding the concept.
MR. COYLE: Yes. Well, it is sort of DoD jargon, I think.
MR. COYLE: When acquisition programs become too schedule driven they start making decisions which are driven by or motivated by achieving a particular date rather than showing that they really can, can make the system work the way it's supposed to first. That's the distinction. It may be a subtle one but it's an important one in that if the program managers are focused more on schedule than they are on performance in the long run performance suffers, the program ends up costing more and actually taking longer.
NEWSHOUR: And is that what is happened with this program?
MR. COYLE: I believe in the beginning it was going in that direction. I urged that the program needed to shift, so has the Welch panel on three occasions, and I believe you'll see changes.
NEWSHOUR: What kinds of changes?
MR. COYLE: I think you'll see an emphasis on achieving technical milestones first, obviously, trying to do that as fast as we can. But emphasis on that first.
NEWSHOUR: Does that mean--and I don't know if you can answer this question--but one of the event driven or schedule driven things, schedule driven is would be the need to put in place the radar in Shemya Island. How critical is that to the performance of the overall system and is that something that needs to wait until some of the tests gets done before that decision is made?
MR. COYLE: The radar at Shemya is really not a test issue. The program wants to begin work there because they see it as a long pole in the tent, as they say.
But there will be many long poles in the tent and the testing program will be one of those.
NEWSHOUR: Can the program or should the program go forward without building the radar site in Alaska?
MR. COYLE: Would you ask that question again?
NEWSHOUR: Should there be more testing on other components of the program before the decision is made to build that radar site in Alaska?
MR. COYLE: Well, as I understand it, this is really a question you probably should ask others, but as I understand it, what they're talking about doing in Shemya first is beginning site construction, earthwork and maybe pouring some concrete for a foundation. That sort of work will not be informed by the flight intercept tests that we're, we're doing. So, I don't make a connection between them.
NEWSHOUR: Okay. That is sort of outside your purview?
MR. COYLE: Yes.
NEWSHOUR: Okay. I understand. Okay. I think we've pretty much covered what I needed to cover. Is there anything that you think is critical that we've left out here?
NEWSHOUR: I guess one thing I don't understand is your role in the defense readiness review process.
MR. COYLE: Yes.
NEWSHOUR: When it comes to it, will it be your job to give thumbs up or thumbs down or just to write analysis as to what has happened so far?
MR. COYLE: I'm an advisor to Dr. Gansler and the Secretary and others. My job is to assess the adequacy of the testing programs in all of the defense acquisitions including this one.
And, so, my job is to report what I think about the state of the testing program as we go forward in these various programs.
NEWSHOUR: Right. And what advice will be expected of you and you expect to offer?
MR. COYLE: The advice that I'm supposed to give is what--do I believe that the tests so far have been operationally realistic, for example, would be a question. Obviously they haven't been yet. They will have to be and will be in the future. That's an example.
NEWSHOUR: So, the tenor, I guess, of the recommendation that you will provide will be what? Slow down on this.
MR. COYLE: No. That's not my point. We can do acquisition programs fast or we can do them slow. My point will be whether we intend to do an acquisition program fast or slow, is the testing program keeping pace, is the testing program realistic and at the end will we understand whether or not this military system really works. Those are the things that I focus on.
NEWSHOUR: And, so far, your assessment is what?
MR. COYLE: So far, the test program has not--[coughs]--has not accomplished the things that we intended. The events in the testing program have slipped considerably. There is nothing wrong with the tests that we've done so far. They are fine tests. Unavoidable, perfectly good tests. There's nothing wrong with them. But we haven't accomplished what we thought we would a year or two ago.
And we have a long way to go.
NEWSHOUR: Does that gap give the President the information that he will need and the Secretary to make a decision about deploying this system?
MR. COYLE: Well, I hope that the Secretary and, and the President will understand and recognize what's been done and what hasn't, but they'll be making their decisions based on many other factors that go way beyond test and evaluation.
NEWSHOUR: But if you were just looking at the testing and evaluation, do you have the data that you need, aside from the other considerations, do you believe, to make the decision for deployment?
MR. COYLE: The President won't necessarily make a decision for deployment. He may only make a decision to do site preparation work in Alaska. So, he doesn't necessarily need test results that we're going to be getting three, four, five years from now in order to make a decision like that.
NEWSHOUR: But it is a decision, as I understand it, to proceed or not, correct?
MR. COYLE: That will be up to the President.
NEWSHOUR: I see. Okay.
NEWSHOUR: Well, okay. And two of the questions then dealt with the time frame and I think they are good ones. Given what you know now, given the tests and the schedules and the results of the tests, when do you think, what do you think a realistic time frame would be either for knowing that the system is going to work and importantly, knowing, conducting a realistic test as you have put it against decoys?
MR. COYLE: The testing program has been slipping. All of these things have turned out to be more difficult than we thought. Just manufacturing the kill vehicle, preparing for the tests, and achieving success in the tests has taken longer than we thought.
As a result, in the last 18 months since the program was restructured, we have lost six or seven or eight months. So, the program has been slipping at the rate of a third or more of a day per day in the last year-and-a-half. At that rate, we will be a couple of years behind if it continues. I hope it doesn't. But if it continues at that rate we'll be a couple of years behind in 2005.
NEWSHOUR: (Some have) said that (the last test) shows that the program is badly managed, are they reading too much into the results of that test or was it simply a fluke?
MR. COYLE: I think we'll have to know what the cause of the failure was. If it turns out to be, let's say, a quality issue, something wasn't made right, that ought to be easily corrected, and you could say, well, that's unfortunate, but not decisive. If it turns out that the failure is something more inherent in the system, we don't know that yet, then it will be more serious and we'll have to look at it accordingly. And we just don't know yet.
NEWSHOUR: And finally (the producer asked off camera), you heard the question about Dr. Postol has suggested that the Pentagon has deliberately misinterpreted the results of the first test, intercept test. What is your response to that?
MR. COYLE: The first intercept test was a success in the sense that the interceptor hit the target. However, it did not have a, a, what you would call a realistic decoy of the sort that he has postulated.
To continue the golf analogy, the intercept tests that we've tried so far, the large balloon that has flown with the, the--in the target complex is a little bit like putting a beach ball on the green of a golf course. It might help you see the green when you're a long way away, but when you're get closer you're not going to be fooled into aiming at the beach ball, you're going to aim for the, for the cup, for the hole.
And that the kinds of tests that we'll need to do in the future will be tests where whatever it is that is meant to, to fool you, perhaps a tennis ball, on the green might look more like the real target.
NEWSHOUR: Okay. Well, I guess I misspoke, the Postol concern was about the fly-by test that was deliberately, he says, misinterpreted to put the best possible spin on the effectiveness of the program.
MR. COYLE: That, that test was not an intercept test. And we knew in, in advance what the objects were in the target complex. There was quite a wide variety of objects and we knew in advance what they were. And, therefore, could figure out from the signals, having that prior knowledge, we could figure out which was which. The thing we will need to do in subsequent tests is show that we can figure out which is which when we don't know in advance, when we don't have prior knowledge about the objects in the target complex.
NEWSHOUR: So, what was the point of knowing the, the identity of the decoys?
MR. COYLE: It, it, the purpose of that test was to learn about these various objects, some of which were decoys, and to see what sort of signatures they had and how easy or difficult they would be to discriminate in the future in real intercept tests.
All these tests have been designed to learn as much as possible from each test. As a result, they have had backup systems so that if one part of the test fails, the rest of the objectives of the test can still be met.
As we get to more and more realistic tests, those kinds of backup systems with prior knowledge will be phased out one-by-one.
NEWSHOUR: But what about the general point that he's making and that is that this testing regimen has been dummied down, gerry-rigged in such a way for political purposes to try to convince policy makers that this program is effective, the testing is showing that the goals can be met.
MR. COYLE: It's very early in the testing program. We have a long way to go. And these early tests are as realistic as we can make them given the state-of-the-art today.
NEWSHOUR: So, you don't believe that there's been any purposeful deception?
MR. COYLE: No.